This week’s Torah reading presents somewhat of a paradox. The opening passages speak about Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the day on which the Jewish people “resemble the angels.” On that day, they “purify themselves before G‑d.” Conversely, the conclusion of the Torah reading warns: “Do not reveal the nakedness of your father; do not reveal the nakedness of your mother... Do not perform any of these abominations.” Not exactly matters we have to warn angels about. Why then are the two subjects included in the same reading?

The resolution of this question is alluded to by the name of the Torah reading: Acharei, which means “after,” and its first verse: “And G‑d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon when they had come close to G‑d and died.”

Yom Kippur is a time when every Jew “comes close to G‑d.” That experience, however, must not be self-contained. Instead, we must focus on what happens afterwards. The way we come close to G‑d must be connected to the days and weeks that follow.

The deepest yearnings of our souls and the loftiest heights of our religious experience should be connected to the realities of our material existence. Spirituality is not an added dimension, separate from our everyday experience, but a medium through which we elevate our ordinary lives. By fusing our material and spiritual realities, we refine the world, infuse it with holiness, and transform it into a dwelling for G‑d’s presence.

This is why we read the passages concerning forbidden sexual relations in the Torah reading which describes the sacrificial worship of Yom Kippur - and indeed, we read about these forbidden relationships during the afternoon services on Yom Kippur itself.

We each have moments when our hearts are turn upward and we feel more in touch with our souls and with G‑d, like on Yom Kippur, a day on which we are removed from all worldly concerns. Even then, our eyes must be focused downward. The spiritual power of these special moments and days should be used to recharge our everyday service of G‑d and motivate us to act according to G‑d’s desires even within the context of situations where we might be tempted to follow another set of mores.